I am assured by the children who have grown up in my various houses that being the offspring or ward of a clergyman is not the most exciting thing in the world. While I was always tempted to respond, "Yeah, you ought to see how boring it is being a member of the clergy", I would point out to them how lucky they were to have the association of so many interesting people and been to some rather interesting places. While that didn't mollify them at the time, they now, upon mature reflection, admit that was the case.
Francis Chichester's father was a priest in the Church of England and he, too, felt that creeping boredom. Born in 1901, his parents sought to address it by sending him to boarding school [at the age of six!] and then to college during the First World War in order to study for the ministry. That didn't quite satisfy him and, upon the war's completion, he emigrated to New Zealand and created a mildly successful property development company which, as with so many, dissolved into bankruptcy during the Great Depression.
Not to be daunted by this minor reversal, Chichester returned to England in 1929 and, on a lark, purchased a de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth biplane and took flying lessons. Hoping to turn that into a business back in New Zealand, Chichester decided to do what had never been done and fly from the United Kingdom to Australia, a feat he accomplished in 180 hours after a slight delay caused by crashing in Libya. By the time he landed in Sydney harbor, Chichester had become a sensation with the local press and, after some careful negotiation, published a memoir of the adventure in his book Solo to Sydney.
Encouraged by his new-found fame, Chichester decided to equip the plane with floats and attempt a solo flight around the world. He made it as far as Japan when he collided with telegraph wires, crashed, and spent the next five years recovering from the breaking several greater and lesser bones.
Once cleared to fly again, in 1936, Chichester became the first to fly across Asia from Sydney to London after which he began carefully to plan a solo, round-the-world flight. Before those plans, and their funding, were complete, Germany invaded Poland and the next six years were consumed by world-wide conflagration. While Chichester, record-setting and highly experienced pilot, was rejected for service in the Royal Air Force [he was nearsighted] as a pilot and officer, he was made the chief navigation instructor at the RAF's training school, mainly due to his ability to use a nautical sextant while in flight. By the end of the war, at the age of 44, married with children and beginning to feel the effects of his injuries, Chichester decided to retire from aviation records and settle down to run a map and chart business. Besides, the age of jets had begun and that meant the days of seat-of-the-pants, open cockpit flying were over.
Ordinarily, this is where his story would begin its gradual conclusion. However, in 1958 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, refused the common surgery, became a vegetarian, and began to look for something new to occupy, before he died, his un-slaked sense of adventure. As flying no longer interested him, and as he had purchased a mid-sized sailboat for weekend fun, Chichester began to research the standing records of solo sailing and planned his next adventure. Things had to be organized quickly however, as he had been given only six months to live. [That turned out to be a gross miscalculation, by the way.]
Warming up by competing in two transatlantic races in 1960 and 1964 in his boat, the Gipsy Moth III, winning the first and placing in the second, Chichester commissioned the 54-foot Gipsy Moth IV in 1965 to be built to his exacting design. As his intention was to sail solo around the world faster than anyone ever had before, the boat needed to have special qualities such as a sail-based self-steering guidance system, the ability for the sailor to steer from his bunk, and a weighted keel that enabled the boat to right itself if capsized in rough weather.